What Does a Catalytic Converter Do?

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Marc Skirvin

Quick Tip

A catalytic converter reduces harmful emissions by converting toxic pollutants into less harmful substances before they are released into the atmosphere. This essential car part uses metals like palladium, rhodium, and platinum to catalyze and transform pollutants into water vapor, carbon dioxide, oxygen, and nitrogen. Proper installation and maintenance are crucial for optimal performance and longevity.

52,000 catalytic converters were stolen in 2021, up from a mere 1300 in 2018. Why is it in such high demand? Well, a catalytic converter is a car part that is essential to keep your vehicle running efficiently.

It reduces emissions of harmful pollutants into the air, making it an important and highly sought-after component. In this article, you’ll learn about the function, and value of a catalytic converter, so you can make an informed decision when shopping for one.

You’ll also find helpful tips on how to properly install and maintain your catalytic converter for maximum performance. Read on for more!

What Is a Catalytic Converter?

A catalytic converter is a device that converts toxic pollutants into less-harmful substances. It’s located in the exhaust system of your car, and it works by helping to burn off any unburned fuel from the engine before releasing it into the atmosphere. This reduces emissions of harmful compounds such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, and hydrocarbons.

Catalytic converters are also a valuable part on a vehicle and can greatly impact the value of a junk car.

How Does It Work?

The catalytic converter is made up of several components including a catalyst coated onto ceramic beads inside the muffler, oxygen sensors, and an air injection system. The exhaust from a car contains harmful substances such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, and hydrocarbons. The oxygen sensors measure the amount of oxygen in the exhaust and send a signal to the air injection system.

This triggers the air injection system to inject fresh air into the catalytic converter, which converts the harmful compounds in the exhaust into benign gases. It does this by using palladium, rhodium, and platinum to catalyze the pollutants and chemically transform them into water vapor, carbon dioxide, oxygen, and nitrogen.

Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that can lead to global warming. It’s not as hazardous as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and VOCs. The latter is responsible for smog formation and acid rain, which have severe consequences on our health.

Catalytic Converter Parts

The parts of the converter work together to reduce the emissions produced by your car. The parts are as follows:

The Catalyst

This is a container filled with ceramic beads coated in metals like palladium, rhodium, and platinum. The catalytic properties of these metals help reduce the emissions from your car. The ceramic beads act as a filter, trapping any impurities and allowing the catalyst to do its job.

The Oxygen Sensor

This is a sensor that measures the oxygen content of exhaust gases. It signals to the air injection system when more air is needed, which triggers the air injection system to inject fresh air into the catalytic converter.

The Air Injection System

This is a system of pipes and valves that inject fresh air into the converter to help reduce emissions. It injects fresh air into the catalytic converter, which helps the catalyst convert harmful compounds in the exhaust into harmless gases.

How to Install and Maintain Your Catalytic Converter

Installing a catalytic converter the correct way is essential for it to work well and last longer. Make sure you read the instruction manual that came with your catalytic converter to ensure proper installation. Here are some tips to follow when installing and maintaining your catalytic converter.

Use the correct type of catalytic converter for your vehicle. Make sure the exhaust system is well sealed to prevent leaks. Check and clean the oxygen sensor often to ensure it’s working the right way.

Replace the catalytic converter if needed and follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Avoid long idling periods or high engine speeds when possible.

How Much Does a Catalytic Converter Cost?

The catalytic converter price will depend on several factors such as size, manufacturer, and vehicle make/model. You can expect to pay anywhere from $100 to over $1000 for a replacement catalytic converter. It’s important to know what type of converter you need as the cost can vary depending on the type.

Buying a new converter is more expensive than getting a used one, but it will last longer and be more reliable. However used converters can be a great option if you’re on a tight budget.

How to Sell a Catalytic Converter?

If you have an old or no longer-needed catalytic converter, you can sell it for scrap metal. Depending on the size and condition of the converter, you may be able to get up to $100. It’s important to make sure that your chosen scrap yard is reputable and pays fair prices for converters.

Common Problems With Catalytic Converters

The most common problem with catalytic converters is the failure of the oxygen sensor. The oxygen sensor monitors the amount of oxygen in the exhaust and sends a signal to the air injection system. If it fails, then fresh air will not be injected into the catalytic converter as needed, resulting in poor performance and increased emissions.

Other issues include:

Clogged Converter

Clogging can occur when the core of the converter becomes blocked by debris or buildup. This happens when the exhaust system is not well sealed. This allows dirt and debris to enter the converter. This can cause a reduction in performance and lead to higher emissions.

Faulty O2 Sensor

A faulty oxygen sensor cannot monitor the amount of oxygen in the exhaust with any accuracy. Heat or overuse can damage the sensor, resulting in reduced performance and increased emissions.

Leaking Exhaust System

This prevents the catalytic converter from working the correct way. This is because it allows pollutants to escape before they reach the converter.

Leaking occurs when there are cracks or loose connections in the exhaust system. This can reduce performance, lead to higher emissions, and damage the converter.

Excessive Heating

Catalytic converters can become damaged if they get too hot. This is often caused by a lack of airflow caused by a restricted exhaust system or an engine running too hot.

The system can become restricted when there is a buildup of dirt or debris, which can cause the converter to overheat.

Damage Caused by Water or Debris

Water and debris can damage the converter as well, leading to reduced performance and increased emissions. It’s important to protect the converter from water and debris to prevent expensive damage.

External Damage

The catalytic converter can also become damaged if it’s subjected to external damage, such as hitting a curb or a rock. This can result in the converter becoming clogged or cracked, resulting in reduced performance and increased emissions.

Types of Catalytic Converters

Catalytic converters come in several different types. These include:

  • Standard converter
  • High-flow converter
  • Universal converter
  • Direct-fit converter

Before purchasing a catalytic converter, make sure you get the right type for your vehicle. You should also double-check that the manufacturer and model are correct before making your purchase.

How Do I Troubleshoot Catalytic Converter Problems?

If you suspect your catalytic converter is not working, there are some steps you can take to troubleshoot it. These include:

  • Check for leaks in the exhaust system
  • Check for a clogged or blocked catalytic converter
  • Inspect the oxygen sensor and other components of the exhaust system
  • Look for signs of external damage or corrosion

If you are experiencing any of these problems, it’s important to have your vehicle inspected by a professional, especially if you don’t know where your catalytic converter is located. Doing so can help prevent costly repairs and ensure your vehicle runs correctly and efficiently.

Can I Repair my Catalytic Converter?

Depending on the issue, some catalytic converter problems can be repaired without having to replace the entire unit. For instance, if you have a clogged converter, it may be possible to clean it with a chemical solution or use an air compressor. However, in most cases, it is best to replace the faulty part with a new one.

How Much Does It Cost to Replace a Catalytic Converter?

Depending on the type of vehicle you have, the cost to replace a catalytic converter will differ.. In general, you can expect to pay anywhere from $200-$1000 for parts and labor. The cost can be much higher if the unit needs to be replaced with a new, upgraded model.

Where Can I Buy a Used One?

While you can buy used catalytic converters, it is important to be aware that some states have restrictions on the sale of used parts due to environmental regulations. It is always best to check with your local government before purchasing any used parts. A professional should inspect the part before installation to ensure it is in good condition and functioning well.

Can I Drive Without One?

No, you should never drive without a catalytic converter. Not only is it illegal in most states, but it can also cause major damage to your vehicle’s engine and exhaust system. Driving without a converter can result in increased emissions, poor performance, and expensive repairs.

Stolen Catalytic Converters

An issue that is becoming more common is the theft of catalytic converters. It’s important to be aware of this issue and take steps to protect your vehicle. Make sure to park in a secure area, lock all doors, and invest in an anti-theft device for added protection.

Take Care of Your Catalytic Converter

If you suspect your catalytic converter isn’t functioning properly, it’s best to have it inspected and replaced as necessary. Taking good care of your catalytic converter is essential for its proper performance and longevity. Inspect it often, clean the oxygen sensor, and replace any faulty parts to ensure optimal performance.

Have a junk car with a good catalytic converter and other parts on it? You could sell it for quick cash! Contact us now to discuss the possibilities.

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About the Author

Picture of Marc

Marc is the Co-Founder of Cash Auto Salvage and Director of daily operations. He retired from a leading Internet Marketing company in 2013 and has been involved in the automotive industry ever since.

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